Otaku is a Japanese term referring to any person or character perceived as having obsessive interests. Although this obsessive interest can be anything, the term is typically used in reference to specific fields of interest, such as technology, the military, idols, video games, and anime/manga. While the technical definition ends there, a number of negative connotations tend to be associated with otaku (both real or fictional) including a lack of social skills, frequent pop culture references, laziness, perversion, unhealthy diets, and even a complete disinterest in or fear of the real world.
Although it is uncommon for otaku to be viewed wholly positively, the otaku stereotype occasionally features positive associations, such as extensive knowledge of and dedication to their interest, skill with technology (even when technology is not their field of interest), and friendly personalities underneath their lack of social skills. As well, otaku tend to be viewed as avid consumers due to their perceived habit of buying anything and everything related to their interest, accounting for trillions of yen in economic impact. This connection is especially strong in the case of Akihabara, a Japanese shopping district which began to focus on the otaku market during the late-1980s.
Outside of Japan
In the 1990s, as anime gained niche popularity in America and Europe, so too did the term otaku. As the only ones liable to know the term at the time were those familiar with anime, its meaning largely got reduced to refer only to those interested in anime, manga, and Japanese video games. As well, the term was largely viewed as positive, with many anime fans throughout the 1990s and into the early 2010s taking pride in labeling themselves otaku. Consequently, as the term became more widely known, new terms were invented to disparage westerners fostering an anime obsession, most famously "weaboo"/"weeb", which itself became a positive term to certain anime fans.
As anime has gained widespread popularity overseas, use of terms such as otaku and weaboo has become less common among American and European fans, although the terms still see some use, especially among those who are especially fond of anime, or who have been fans of anime for a long time.